Josh Groban Performs At Oakdale: Atmosphere Trumps Musical Nuance
April 10, 2004
By Matthew Erikson
Most classically trained singers will tell you that voices require years to settle and ripen. And even when the voice is ready, it may take several more years before it gets the public's attention.
That hasn't been the case with Josh Groban, the 23-year-old singer who in a short time has won a huge number of fans with his emotive baritone voice, boyish good looks and sentimental pop ballads. First made famous through TV appearances on PBS, the Fox show "Ally McBeal" and "Oprah," Groban has developed a unique following of young girls, single women and older couples, many of whom were present in a sold-out performance at careerbuilder.com Oakdale Theatre Thursday evening.
The "Grobanites," as they proudly call themselves, were clearly visible at the Oakdale with picture pins of Groban on their lapels. And at certain moments in the two-hour concert they waved rainbow-colored Glo sticks, mouthing the lyrics along with their idol, eyes shut. It stirred certain sympathetic feelings to see so many moved by the power of the human voice, even if during points in the concert one cynically wondered if Groban's appeal is mostly extramusical.
Sure enough, Groban's voice is naturally attractive and robust, evoking the power of, say, Barry Manilow and the tenderness of Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli. And as if to recapture some of the Bocelli magic, the L.A.-born Groban sings many of the languid ballads from his two CDs - the second one "Closer" has been on the Billboard charts for 119 weeks - in Italian and Spanish. In hearing the opening numbers "Oceana" and "Un Amore per Sempre," however, the hazy diction sounded more like Esperanto. And many of these minor-key ballads, including English ones with such titles as "My Confession" and "My December," began to sound all the same. The song "You Raise Me Up" near the end was a pale imitation of "Danny Boy."
One doubts if most of the audience really cared much, more concerned, it seemed, with atmosphere of passionate longing and sensuality than musical nuance. To that end, Groban was helped along with lots of mood lighting, a fog machine and a background screen projecting images of waves, falling rain and an attractive red-haired woman. At one point, a James Bond-like silhouette of a Spanish dancer was seen behind a screen, accompanied by the strains of a flamenco guitar.
Sex, of course, sells, and Groban with his dark curls follows in a long tradition. Wearing a tightly fitted pinstripe suit in the first half and untucked shirts and jeans in the second, he was joined by the barefoot violinist and concertmaster Lucia Micarelli, whose red dress and writhing motions in an instrumental arrangement of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" made Groban seem, in comparison, the master of understatement.
Still, you still can't take away from the singer his disarming stage presence. And in the second half, when earlier pitch problems were overcome and a strained high register settled, even cynics could find something to enjoy, particularly when the repertoire wasn't the cheesy variety in such unaffected renditions of "Caruso" and "Vincent." For the Grobanites, however, the concert was all the culmination of a huge love fest, their hearts aflame in the song "Per Te" ("For You") with an ardor that matched their plastic Glo-sticks.